Episode 2: Found a forgotten letter from an old college professor who reviewed a book I’d written, pondering what I did with her advice. I refer to a familiar phenomenon, where I uncover some repeating themes in my past journal posts (see, “The Curse of Having Digitally Enhanced Memories“). I’m not deterministic, but apparently some “lifestyle choices” look more like recurring bad habits and are really hard to break out of.
Intro Video – episode 1: The Ken Burns Effect. After watching an episode of Babylon 5, it dawned on me that I have the same technology to create video journals. So here’s my first one, following attending a talk by the filmmaker Ken Burns.
This past week when I went into the office I left the ranks of the computer-backpack downtrodden. Over a year ago, back when I was ill, I had to carry everything in a bag because I needed both hands to support myself with my walker. It was bad enough to have to use a bag just to carry a water bottle or anything, but going to the office was all the worse because I had to lug around all this heavy gear like some broken down pack mule. I experimented with a few things like using my Mac Mini at work and iPad for everything else, but they were just too slow and I had problems with things running different versions of the software I used, so I gave up. Then I got stronger and didn’t mind carrying the computer backpack as much.
As fate would have it I recently installed some software on the work laptop that made a bunch of stuff incompatible, so I needed to have the thing re-imaged and that made it run much better than it had in the past. That made me think that maybe I could forgo my former pack-mule existence and just carry about my iPad mini like I’d previously imagined. I spent some time making sure that I had all the software and documents I needed on the work laptop and the means to keep everything in sync. When I thought that I’d tested everything and made sure it all worked I went to work without any backpack of any kind. It was glorious. And thanks to my 5.11 Tactical Pant (cargo pants modeled after their military and law-enforcement brothers), everything I needed fit in my pockets. No giant backpack carrying all of my worldly possessions, cables, connectors, adapters and the like. Just my iPad mini, a small external-hard-drive (because I had some image collections I’d forgotten to load on the work laptop), a ziplock baggy with a few iOS connectors, a micro-fiber cloth & Olloclip iPhone camera adapter and my Pencil (an iPad stylus from Paper 53) all fit comfortably in my pants’ pockets.
I know that this probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, “So you have a computer at home and a computer at work and you’ve got weird cargo pants to fit your tablet in”… but having carried a laptop to work and back everyday going back to when I first started teaching in the mid-90s… hell, I was carrying my personal laptop going back to my phone company days… so, I’m happy to think that I can give my poor back and shoulders a break and be able to get away with carrying my technology in my iPhone and my iPad-mini. First-world problem, I know, but it’s taken over a year to get here and I’m going to enjoy the freedom to have my hands-free and my back unencumbered.
image: Toulouse, France by theritters, Some rights reserved (Attribution), http://www.flickr.com/photos/theritters/2681776959/
I’ve been back from California for a few weeks, dove right back into work, getting out of the house and keeping tabs on my health. Today actually marked the first time since my illness that I did what I said I would do when I began treatment in September of 2012, that in a year’s time I’d do a 5K. I’m a few month overdue with the original plan but it marked a new beginning nonetheless. That’s a good thing, but I really don’t feel like I’m anywhere near firing on all cylinders. It’s like I’m almost up to full capacity as far as doing the job and keeping busy, but there’s still something missing.
A lot has happened in the last year. Around this time last year I was beginning to get around a lot better with the aid of the new 4-wheel walker that I bought myself that Christmas. I moved back to my townhouse and had to re-acquaint myself with being independent. It was nice to be able to fend for myself, but bittersweet in that it also marked the departure of Tricia and her family from my life. My department at work got a new boss and then they began to change some of the focus of the program for a less K-12-centric audience and most recently I was moved to an earlier course. Since its inception the degree program has generally had major changes each year, except for the last couple years, so we were overdue. I’m still adjusting. Then, most recently my very-talented eldest sister, Kathie, died.
One of the things that I wanted to do when I first moved out to Florida in 2008 was get back into playing my music and going out and sharing it, like in real public venues. Over the course of the first four years I plugged into some really great live jam sessions, but only once really participated. So, newly independent last Spring, I decided that I really needed to just do it. That took more than a few month and the one venue where I did participate in their open mic night, I never quite seemed to fit in. Granted I probably spent a hell of a lot more time at the dive down the street from me, Holly and Dolly’s, where I never did get up the courage to bring my guitar, but it felt a lot more comfortable than the place where I finally trudged out my Beatles covers, etc. In a word, it didn’t go as planned. But I’ve made enough connections to realize that I’m not quite done yet.
It’s weird. I guess I’m going through the adjustments after everything that’s happened, and it’s really not enough just to go through the motions. I’ve nearly recovered my strength, but that’s not enough. Back before I got sick, back when I was firing on all cylinders, I was busy, working nearly around the clock and only in the year or so before the illness, I did slow down just a little to enjoy the company and companionship of my best-friend and lover. Then that all went away and one-year later I’m left trying to remember what was most important to me, what my mission is in this life.
A tune by my friend, Neva, popped up on my playlist the other day and a friend asked who that was. I don’t know if I adequately answered her question, but over the past day I’ve been finding myself thinking about the music. And even though I’m way overdue finishing my grades, I’ve spent this evening re-editing the following video and writing these words. Neva posted the first part of the video as a demo of a song in progress and much later posted the official music video. I put the two together because I like how the first one showed her personality and the second highlights her amazing talent. Grades still need to get done, but I’m probably a bit closer to remembering why I’m here and what should be the priorities in my life.
It’s more than a few days since my last real posts (beyond travel pix). Understandably, I had very mixed feelings about the trip. But as the Southern California sojourn progressed I gained more and more a sense of closure and purpose, such that I was ready to get back to Florida by trip’s end. A couple trip “highlights”:
- Reconnecting with so many relatives & friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in decades,
- In honor of my late sister, watching a movie with family followed by a couple pitchers of beer and conversation like we used to,
- SoCal specific foods: Don Ruben’s breakfast burrito, Jamba Juice & many trips to In-n-Out Burger (yum),
- Getting a chance to spend time with several very close friends who have stood by me through many a travail,
- Spending several days with mum and getting a chance to record a video with her talking about family photos and stories.
Part of the “coming back” process has been working through prioritizing the things that are important to me. Writing, photography, music, teaching, work, getting healthy, oh yeah and the social life… Where does one begin? My previous MO was to try to do it all, all at once. Thinking about it now, I have to admit that going at things that way always led to me eventually doing the opposite of doing it all, all at once: doing only one or two things with no consistency and definitely no sense of satisfaction. So I guess I’m going to be more realistic pacing myself so that I can actually enjoy myself instead of running to exhaustion. I don’t know how this will directly effect my blog, but I do know that I want to write much more substantial articles instead of posting “something” because I haven’t posted over the past five-days. This is obviously a work in progress… Onward and upward.
“… I look in the mirror every morning and ask myself, If today were the last day of my life, would I do what I’m about to do today? And whenever the answer has been ’no’ for too many days in a row I know I need to change something… Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason to not follow your heart.” Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement speech
I have co-workers who’ve exhibited a common attitude among the teachers I’ve worked with before: a desire to find a cushy spot where one can work as long as one can without having to break too much of a sweat. Something that those not involved in the teaching profession might not know, teaching really is a hard profession that wears everyone out over a very short time. In fact, I met someone last night who was an elementary education major and after her teacher-training/mentoring experience decided to not become a teacher. Talk about scaring someone out of a profession before they even get started. So, it is understandable that the goal of many educators is to find “safe harbor” as soon as possible in order to make it all the way to retirement.
The enemy is burn-out. Pushing so hard against the negative will of students, of coworkers, of administrators day after day, year after year wears on anyone who chooses education as their profession. An alternative strategy from safe-harbor to combat burn-out is to go from project to project and never stay in one place for too long. I had a boss at the phone company tell me that he’d learned that he should go from position to position after about 18-months in any one job. He said that whatever you need to learn and whatever you need to do should be taken care of in that stretch of time and that anything beyond that usually leads to problems with either burn-out or complacency. It seemed pretty logical but when I started teaching almost all the teachers I worked with had been in their current position for a lot of years, even decades. It seemed like most teachers in the public system tended to go with the safe-harbor strategy.
I didn’t plan it this way, but I seem to average about three-years before switching positions. Three-years into teaching 6th grade I switched to creating a video-journalism program for three years. Then I switched schools and districts and ran an elementary school computer lab for four years, ending my public career with three-years teaching media/computers/journalism at the middle school level. The surprise is that my current position teaching at Full Sail for five-years is the longest I’ve been at any one teaching job. This isn’t to say that having a safe-harbor mindset is even possible with the current position. There is a need to innovate and stay on top of the technology and teaching trends without summer breaks or really any breaks between terms. The only constant seems to be change and you have to be okay with that if you’re going to survive at all in this job.
Someone asked me what I was going to do next, when I commented about the most recent changes to the program and my growing sense of having less actual say in my own course. I wasn’t quite ready for the question. I mean, five-years ago I didn’t really plan to leave California and the public ed safety net but I managed to land on my feet when I saw what Full Sail was putting together in online education. I guess the point is to stay open to the possibilities and keep my eyes open to whatever may cross my path and keep testing myself day after day about whether I’m continuing my mission or looking for safe harbor.
image: Recording Graphics by Lloyd Dangle at USC Creativity & Collaboration Some rights reserved by Norman Lear Center – http://www.flickr.com/photos/83665349@N00/5261562914/